On Saturday July 27, the recently crowned Pride of Tipperary Donna Breen climbed the famous Galtymore guided by the Galtee Walking Club with Sinead and Sarah O’Neill.
It was a group fundraising effort to build an orphanage in Tanzania in memory of Ian McKeever, an Irish mountaineer, broadcaster and motivational speaker who once held the world record for the fastest completion of the Seven Summits challenge.
The 2013 Pride of Tipperary is a qualified Counsellor receiving her degree in Counselling & Psychotherapy from the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences in Limerick and just recently she returned from a voluntary work in a Tanzanian Orphanage.
“My experience in Tanzania from start to finish has been totally surreal; I still can’t believe I have been there and back on my own and I’m still in one piece. There were some tough times but I am so happy I got the opportunity.”
In the mornings Donna taught children from two to four years of age. “I found this project extremely difficult considering the age of the children and the language barrier so the best I could do was to help teach the teachers new ways of interacting with the children, as their curriculum is taught solely by repetition. I introduced posters and flashcards and the most enjoyable time was playtime, when I got to know each of the children and they would walk us home from school”.
In the evenings Donna helped children aged between seven and fourteen with their homework.
“I loved this project as we had so much fun with the children and I feel we really made a difference. We were able to help them, give them some much needed love and attention and get to know them as individuals; this was the hardest project to leave as we developed quite a bond with the children. It really opened my eyes to see how much they love life and how happy they are with so little; it is something I will carry with me forever”.
Donna’s voluntary programme also included working with a women’s group who hand-made wallets, handbags, tablecloths, laptop covers and pencil cases as their only source of income. But the most challenging was working in a retention centre where children and teenagers were held either awaiting a criminal trial or to learn discipline for disobeying parents.
“This project was the one which touched me most emotionally. It didn’t take long to realise that a few of the children had done very little wrong. One 7-year old boy was left there by his mother two months before for skipping school. I was teaching him English and math when he ran off crying; when he came back he told me he was scared and lonely and that he wanted to go home.
I gave him a cuddle and told him it would be ok - the staff had banned cuddles to show the children discipline. I found this heart-breaking.”